The Rise of the Social User, IT Beware

It’s time to face facts. Employees are tech savvy, mobile and social. New technologies and platforms, from Twitter to iPhone apps, have created a fundamental shift in behavior and culture, which has tipped the scale in favor of the end user. How? It’s simple. Thanks to social networks and mobile apps, end users can now circumnavigate their IT systems and access alternative means of communication and information that are difficult (if not impossible) to control.

Yes, IT can still manage or deny access to certain applications and monitor activity on their systems, but they can’t cover everything. And this rapid change in behavior has created some tension between IT management and employees; employees protest harsh restrictions on their ability to access or share information, while employers bemoan the increased risk to company assets and confidential information.

It’s a struggle for both sides and Patrick Thibodeau of Computerworld explains this power shift in his latest article, "Top 10 IT management trends for the next five years."  In the article, he outlines important new technologies and trends in IT, saying, “The top trends affecting technology infrastructure over the next five years can be summed up as largely a list representing where IT and users are battling for control over technology.”
Within this list, he highlights the importance of social media and mobile applications, cautioning companies not to be too restrictive or sluggish to adopt them, as users will find clever ways to get what they need regardless.

Thibodeau's comments echo Gartner’s recent announcement, which identified the “Top 10 Strategic Technologies for 2010,” and (surprise, surprise) number six on that list was “Social Computing.”  In the Gartner release, they suggest that workers don’t want to have two separate channels of communication, one for personal “external” use and the other, more restrictive one for work-approved means. The release also explains how social media affords a new opportunity for companies to bring internal and external communities together through social forums/networks.

That’s all well and good, but how can IT departments ensure they can open up without exposing themselves to unnecessary risks? The answer doesn’t have to be complicated, but it does require careful planning.

Both the Gartner release and Thibodeau's article allude to the importance of establishing clear guidelines and parameters for employees. In turn, helping employees to understand that they have access to social networks and apps on their phones, but anything they send out can reflect poorly on or negatively impact the company in which they work. Plus, these guidelines help IT managers reduce some of the risk associated with information leaks (e.g. tweets about acquisitions prior to public announcements) or push back from users looking to use Twitter or Face book.

That’s an important step, but how do companies make this happen? Should the IT team send memos on “responsible social media tips” or is a company-wide meeting in order? And, who gets to determine these rules?

It's a unique opportunity, but it’s tough to say who should take the lead on establishing guidelines and monitoring tools for highly-social employees. Perhaps it’s an opportunity for more collaborative decision making? We’ll have to wait and see.

Contributed by: Gretchen Doores  Follow her @canadiangal84 

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